Date: Mon, January 28, 2008 1:34 am
For Immediate Release
Indonesia: Suharto's Death a Chance for Victims to Find Justice
Government Should Investigate Crimes of Former Dictator's Regime
(New York, January 27, 2008) - The death of former president Suharto at
age 86 provides an opportunity to commemorate the many victims of his
oppressive regime, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch
said the Indonesian government should make a serious commitment to hold
accountable the perpetrators of human rights abuses during his rule.
Suharto presided over more than three decades of military dictatorship
and systematic human rights abuses, including media censorship, tight
restrictions on freedom of association and assembly, a highly
politicized and controlled judiciary, widespread torture, attacks on the
rights of minorities, massacres of alleged communists, and numerous war
crimes committed in East Timor, Aceh, Papua and the Moluccan islands. He
also presided over a famously corrupt regime in which he, his family,
and his cronies amassed billions of dollars in illegal wealth - funds
which could have addressed Indonesia's widespread poverty and social
"Suharto has gotten away with murder - another dictator who's lived out
his life in luxury and escaped justice," said Brad Adams, Asia director
at Human Rights Watch. "But many of Suharto's cronies are still around,
so the Indonesian government should take the chance to put his many
partners in human rights abuse on trial."
To date, there has been virtually no legal accounting for the widespread
abuses committed during Suharto's rule, or for the violence instigated
by pro-Suharto forces in a failed attempt to stave off his 1998 fall
from power. Suharto himself never faced trial for human rights abuses.
The former dictator spent the last years of his life living in luxury.
On account of Suharto's alleged poor health, in May 2006, prosecutors
dropped one case that alleged that he had stolen $600 million from the
"Indonesia's attorney general never issued an indictment against him for
human rights violations," said Adams. "While there has been a great deal
of political reform, repeated failures to hold perpetrators of serious
human rights crimes to account have meant that Indonesia still has not
come to terms with the worst of Suharto's legacy."
Human Rights Watch said that the lack of justice for Suharto's crimes is
directly linked to the continuing impunity enjoyed by Indonesia's
security forces, despite many political reforms and promises to address
past abuses. Since 1998, the legal and institutional bases of Suharto's
political repression have been largely removed, and there has been great
progress on freedom of association and expression.
One important consequence of this failure is that, although the military
no longer formally plays a political role (the military's "Dwifungsi" or
"dual function" ideology relied on by Suharto has been abandoned and is
economically entrenched. The military still is not fully answerable to
the Ministry of Defense, and much-heralded reforms to end the armed
forces' involvement in business are stalled. The predictable result is
conflicts of interest and abuses, as with the May 2007 killing of
civilians in Pasuruan, East Java, by marines who had ousted farmers and
planted commercial crops on the disputed land. Another consequence is
that where there is conflict in Indonesia today, as in Papua, security
forces - both military and special police units - still commit abuses
and are almost never held accountable.
"Justice is a key missing piece in Indonesia's reform story," said
Adams. "The failure to touch Suharto shows how far Indonesia still has
to go if it is to establish strong, independent prosecutors and courts,
and put an end to serious security-force abuses."
Suharto's sordid legacy dates to the army-backed massacres in 1965 that
accompanied his rise to power. A failed coup against President Sukarno
in September 1965 claimed the lives of six army generals, but it was the
army, led by then-Major General Suharto, that emerged as the paramount
power in the aftermath.
Although the events surrounding the coup attempt remain unclear and some
participants themselves described it as an internal military affair, the
government maintained that the Indonesian Communist Party was
exclusively responsible for the coup attempt. From 1965 to 1967, Suharto
presided over a bloodbath that destroyed the Indonesian Communist Party.
Estimates of the number of people killed range from a quarter of a
million to more than 1 million. Hundreds of thousands of citizens
suspected of having leftist affiliations, including large numbers of
teachers and student activists, were imprisoned. Most of them were never
tried, let alone convicted of any offense. Suharto was officially
proclaimed president in March 1967.
Under Suharto's "New Order" regime, Indonesian society became
progressively militarized, with the Indonesian armed forces playing an
increasingly prominent role as a social and political force. Throughout
his rule, Suharto viciously suppressed any sign of anti-government
unrest or separatist ambition. Military operations, most notably in East
Timor, Aceh, and Papua, were characterized by undisciplined and
unaccountable troops committing widespread abuses against civilians,
including extrajudicial executions, torture, forced disappearances,
beatings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and drastic limits on
freedom of movement.
In 1975, just nine days after neighboring East Timor declared its
independence from Portugal, Suharto ordered Indonesian forces to invade
and annex the former colony. Indonesia's occupation of East Timor was
brutal, marked by atrocities such as the Santa Cruz massacre in 1991,
when at least 270 pro-independence protesters were shot or beaten to
death by the military.
"One of the enduring legacies of Suharto's regime has been the culture
that continues to block justice for victims of military abuses even
today," said Adams. "Maybe with Suharto's passing, this legacy, too, can
be brought to an end."
A rare attempt at accountability for Suharto-era crimes occurred in
trials held in 2004 against soldiers accused of participating in the
"Tanjung Priok Massacre" in Jakarta two decades earlier. Yet the trials
resulted in little justice for the families of the 33 or more civilians
shot by government security forces during an anti-government
demonstration. Two defendants were acquitted amid reports of political
interference and witness intimidation. The remaining 12 defendants had
their convictions overturned by an appeals court in June 2005.
For more information, please contact:
In London, Brad Adams (English): +44-79-0872-
In New York, Joe Saunders (English, Bahasa Indonesia): +1-212-216-1216;
or +1-917-825-9859 (mobile)
In Washington, DC, Sophie Richardson (English, Mandarin):
+1-202-612-4341; or +1-917-721-7473 (mobile)